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Tierra Cotton-Kellow of Aberdeen, Md., is a business owner, wife and mother who somehow carves out time for genealogy. Recently, she’s felt like one of her ancestors is giving her some attention, too.
“I never had the chance to meet my second great-grandfather Wiley Henry Edwards, but we keep bumping into each other,” says Cotton-Kellow, creator of the Pressing My Way blog and web series. “He was born to formerly enslaved parents, Henry and Eliza Edwards, on Christmas Day 1884, and died the day after Christmas in 1962.”
Her “encounters” with Wiley started innocuously. Late one night, she was paging through unindexed military records online. “Something fell in another room. I went to look and there was nothing. I came back to the computer and his record was right in front of me. I chalked it up to coincidence.”
Then Cotton-Kellow started some completely unrelated research. Intrigued by a copy of a slave pass, she tracked down its publication to a book. Inside were several mentions of Edwards—and the first and only picture she’s seen of him.
Edwards’ parents have even appeared on Cotton-Kellow’s radar. A cousin randomly posted a picture of them on Facebook. “I’m the only professional genealogist in my family, so I think they figured I already knew about the photos. But that was news to me!”
A Step in the Right Direction
Her most poignant encounter with Edwards was a total surprise. When accompanying a friend to the cemetery, she stepped away to give her friend some privacy. When she happened to look down, she realized she was standing in front of Wiley’s headstone. The name seemed familiar, but the birth and death dates confirmed the match. “I pulled up my Ancestry app and started screaming, ‘I know him!’ That’s a really weird thing to scream in a cemetery,” Cotton-Kellow says. “It wasn’t a family plot, and there was nothing that would draw me to that area. Just him.”
“He is a mystery and I think that’s why he keeps popping up,” she says. “I think he wants me to know him.”
A version of this article originally appeared in the July/August 2019 issue of Family Tree Magazine.